Wind turbine under construction
Technical Summary

Onshore Wind Turbines

Project Drawdown defines onshore wind turbines as: onshore utility-scale wind power technologies. This solution replaces conventional electricity-generating technologies such as coal, oil, and natural gas power plants.

After slow but steady growth, wind capacity has increased around one-fifth per year for the past decade. In 2018, global cumulative installed onshore wind capacity was 539.6 GW (IRENA, 2019), dominated by China (35%), followed by the United States (17%), Germany (10%), India (6%) and Spain (4%).

Methodology

Total Addressable Market[1]

Two total addressable markets were developed for this sector solutions, supported on lower and higher climate emissions mitigation targets linked to different levels of electricity demand and renewable energy sources integration. The total addressable market for onshore wind turbines is based on projected global electricity generation in terawatt-hours from 2020-2050, with current adoption estimated[2] at 4.36percent (i.e. 1,150 terawatt-hours) of total electricity generation.

Adoption Scenarios[3]

Impacts of increased adoption of wind turbines (onshore) from 2020-2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

  • Scenario 1: his scenario is based on the evaluation of yearly averages of four optimistic scenarios: IEA (2017) Energy Technology Perspectives 2DS and B2DS scenarios; IEA (2018) World Energy Outlook SDS; and Equinor (2018) Renewal Scenario; using a high growth trajectory.
  • Scenario 2: this scenario is based on the yearly average values of three 100% renewable energy sources used for electricity generation by 2050, being Greenpeace (2015) Advanced Energy [R]evolution Scenario; Ram et al. (2019) scenario and Ecofys (2018) 1.5°C scenario. These scenarios represent very ambitious pathway towards a fully decarbonized energy system in 2050.

Financial Model

The financial inputs used in the model consider an average installation cost of US$1,635 per kilowatt[4] with a learning rate of 9.65 percent, resulting in first costs of US$1,155 per kilowatt in 2030 and US$1,026 in 2050. An average capacity factor of 33.6 percent is used for onshore wind turbines, compared to 57 percent for conventional technologies (i.e. coal, natural gas, and oil power plants). Variable operation and maintenance costs of US$0.024 per kilowatt-hour and of US$48.7 per kilowatt for fixed costs are considered for onshore wind, compared to US$0.005 per kilowatt-hour and US$34.7 per kilowatt for the conventional technologies. In some world regions, reports for first costs have been significantly lower (around US$1,100/ US$1,200 per kilowatt in the United States and China) and much higher for capacity factors (reaching 55 percent in the USA). Nonetheless, because of the differences in levels and speed of adoption at regional scales, more conservative values were chosen derived form a global analysis.

Integration[5]

Through the process of integrating onshore wind turbines with other solutions, the total addressable markets were adjusted to account for reduced demand resulting from the growth of more energy-efficient technologies,[6] as well as increased electrification from other solutions like electric cars and high-speed rail. Grid emissions factors were calculated based on the annual mix of different electricity generating technologies over time. Emissions factors for each technology were determined through a meta-analysis of multiple sources, accounting for direct and indirect emissions.

Results

The results of the Scenario 1 show that the marginal first costs compared to the Reference Scenario would be US$842.9 billion from 2020-50, with nearly US$3.9 trillion in lifetime savings from the installed wind technologies on same period. Increasing the use of onshore wind from 4.36 percent in 2018 to 19.6 percent of world electricity generation by 2050 would require an estimated US$4.5 trillion in cumulative first costs. With its low greenhouse gas emissions and high future adoption trajectories, under the Scenario 1, onshore wind turbines could reduce 47.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from 2020-2050. The Scenario 2 is significantly more ambitious, with emission reductions over 2020-2050 of 147.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

Discussion

Wind power plays a large and essential role in any long-term projections towards a low-carbon future. As a renewable resource, wind does not require mining or drilling for fuel, and its costs are therefore not susceptible to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.

One of the concerns with wind electricity is intermittency: wind speeds vary on a seasonal and hourly basis, requiring back-up power or storage at certain times to meet electricity demand. The increased use of wind and solar may require investments and improvements in grid infrastructure and the flexibility of power systems. Yet studies and real-world experience suggest these investments are manageable and cost less than fossil fuels when externalities (health and environmental effects that are not captured in the market price of the technology) are taken into account. Further, many regions do not yet have a centralized electric system designed around fossil use, and may more easily design a flexible or distributed electricity system taking advantage of renewable and endogenous resources.

The amount of new wind power capacity is projected to continue growing steadily with or without climate policies, showing that the technology is mature and cost-competitive with fossil fuels. However, wind deployment could be accelerated by: policies that put a price on carbon emissions; feed-in tariffs; renewable portfolio standards encouraging renewable energy use; public research and development to help advance the technology and further lower costs; and financial incentives such as production credits and tax breaks.

 

[1] For more about the Total Addressable Market for the Electricity Generation Sector, click the Sector Summary: Electricity Generation Sector link below.

[2] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand (i.e. TWh) supplied by the solution in 2018.

[3] To learn more about Project Drawdown’s two adoption scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Electricity Generation Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Electricity Generation link.

[4] All monetary values are presented in US2014$.

[5] For more on Project Drawdown’s Electricity Generation Sector integration model, click the Sector Summary: Electricity Generation link below.

[6] For example: LED lighting and high efficiency heat pumps.